The legend of the Broom Tree is featured in the Tale of Genji, a Japanese epic of sorts, famed for being the first modern novel ever written, and by a woman, no less, called Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th Century. Unfortunately the actual story of the Broom Tree is very hard to find and so I made it up. In my version it uses the original Japanese idea of the tree being unapproachable but I’ve added my own little fable to go with it. I hope you enjoy it.
“Through the door of light, you came. Like the colour blue. Come, sit with me and I will tell you a tale.”
The old woman, whose face looked familiar sat hunched, next to an ugly looking dog. The dog stared at him with bulging eyes. His back legs looked deformed.
“Where am I?” Kytö could only ask weakly.
“You are at the beginning.”
“The beginning of what?”
“You’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure.” The old woman cackled.
“Now listen, sit, have some tea with me.”
Kytö found a stool and sat down. He looked around the room or more accurately, the space he was in and saw nothing except white light.
A table appeared with a cup of milky tea. The tea Kytö was accustomed to, was usually black, red or green. However he did not want to offend. Tinges of cardamom, cinnamon and cloves played in his mouth. The flavours were familiar but he could not think back to when he might have experienced a tea such as this before. His world was sterile; eating was not a comfort or a pastime, it was a necessity.
As he sipped the hot sweet liquid and experienced all that was the joy of tea, he saw appear, in the distance, a tree.
The leaves were a dirty green and looked dry and unnourished. They reminded him of the sticks for an old broomstick that witches were said to ride into the sky like sky-bikes.
“That is the hahakigi tree, the broom tree. The closer you get, the further away it will appear, it may even disappear completely depending on how determined you are.”
“Why is it here?”
“Good question. You will answer that yourself soon enough. Why are you here?”
“I don’t know.”
“You are here because you need to be,” the old woman explained. As Kytö gave into what he assumed was another hallucination or dream, he remembered Suva. Perhaps this old woman would be able to tell him about her. After all, this was the first time Kytö had actually interacted with anyone in any of these ‘dreams’.
“Let me tell you about the tree, Kytö…
Long ago, in an ancient land there lived a king. He was kind and thoughtful but sometimes a little too spontaneous. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“In this far off land, the kings were called emperors, powerful and knowledgeable. Usually they were escorted everywhere they went, by their servants and body guards. They could have whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted except to be completely alone.
One day, the emperor ordered for a new garden to be designed, where he could sit outside and imagine being alone. He did not want to guess at the presence of any of his bodyguards or his servants. He wanted to feel alone and not to be seen.
He hired the best gardeners in the land and charged them with the task of creating a garden cloaked within itself, where if one sat in one corner one would be hidden from view unless someone were to pass directly in front of them.
Most of the gardeners were confused and they argued amongst each other. One of the gardeners, however, knew the magical secrets that plants only whispered to each other, for he knew how to listen to the grass and the leaves and even the fallen fruit which one might think would have no voice. He knew the laments of the willow and pine and the joys of the maple and he knew of the bitterness of the cherry blossom and the wisdom of the broom tree. And it was this wisdom which the gardener would use to construct the garden of gardens for the emperor who wanted to escape.
Now the ministers and the bodyguards tried to argue with the emperor and wanted him to change his mind. After all, it was impossible for the emperor to be protected if he could not be seen, they reasoned.
“ Then I shall have a garden where I can still be seen but I cannot be disturbed. I want to feel as if I am alone,” decreed the emperor.
And that was all the emperor would say on the matter. To those who did not agree with him, he threatened with banishment and even death. And so it came to pass that that the emperor had his garden and the wisdom and the magic of the broom tree.
Are you with me, so far, my young one? The broom tree…”
Kytö could only nod and the old woman continued with a voice which rasped and sawed at the edges of the air between them and her words became pictures which danced before Kytö’s mind’s eye.
“Now the wisdom of the broom tree is to be without desire, without conception and without finality. The closer one desires to come to broom tree, the farther away it appears. So our emperor could sit under the tree but he could not be approached. The gardener had even thought to ask the plants to create enough whisperings and murmurings so the emperor could not even hear anyone else in the garden and so he had the feeling of being completely alone.
However, the challenge lay in the emperor himself approaching the broom tree, you see there is a secret to it. Like all things precious, like all things desirable, once it is possessed, it becomes damaged and the Broom Tree knew this. The only way one could approach the clever tree was to befriend it.”
As soon as the question fell from the lips of Kytö the old lady and all that came with her disappeared.
He was left with the andro in his room, with Layla’s device discarded on the floor.
The andro remained by the door. That look of polite surprise still plastered across its face. Kytö eyed the device and remembered the voice.
He dared not guess at what had happened at what was happening. He did not want to touch the device right now. He felt betrayed and afraid.
“Andro, what is going on?”
“The device is a key, although I have no knowledge of what kind of door it is designed to open.”
“Did you see the old woman? Could you hear her, at least?”
“I have calculated that you were not here for 0.01 seconds. The old woman you speak of must have met you wherever it was you went.”
Kytö picked up the device as carefully as he could. He turned it over and over in his hand and then gingerly placed it back into its packaging. He needed to stop being scared and passive. Things were happening to him and now he needed to find out how to make things happen himself if he was ever to find a way out of this mess.
“Do you think the device is responsible for me travelling or leaving?”
“Are you really being tracked?”
“Yes. An unknown source is tracking me. We have to leave.”
“Where do we go?”
“I do not know.”
Kytö packed a few clothes, some food packets and the device into a carry-all.
“If you come with me, they will be able to track me too. I think I should leave you behind.”
“I can disable my tracking device. Whoever is tracking me is using protocol. There is nothing complicated in their methods. Should I disable my tracking devise?”
“Yes, of course! Why didn’t you do this before?”
“Because I was under Layla’s command before and she knew that I would be tracked. She wanted me to be tracked to you. You must be seen to be important. You are important.”
As quickly as he could, Kytö finished packing. He picked up his communicator and thought the better of it. If he used it, he could be tracked. If Layla wanted to communicate with him, she would be able to do so quite easily, he thought wryly.
Once outside Kytö could not think of where to go. He had never thought of leaving his hometown before. People didn’t leave.
Public transport would take him as far as the city limits but he could not risk using his own payment credentials. Cash would have been really useful at this time. The documents he had scoured mentioned physical payment methods in exchange for services. These could be untraceable. Every transaction could be traced back to him now.
Kytö looked at the andro and wondered at the absurdity of it. He was running away with no means of doing so, at the word of this machine, which he trusted above every other living creature he knew.
“Where do we go, Andro? How do we even get there?”
“We must go on foot. Public transportation will cost cantars, and any cantar transaction can be led back to you.”
“That’s what I was thinking, but where do we go?”
“Where the stories lead you.”